As an actress who has worked in the entertainment industry for many years, it's astonishing to me to see how little progress the Hispanic community has made - especially since we make up a significant part of the Los Angeles population. It's hurtful that there is still not much representation in front of or behind the camera. My show One Day at a Time is the only Latinx show on the air. I don't get it; I don't understand it. It's shocking and enraging. I just don't understand what the resistance is. We must continue to work to change this. I know we won't get any help from the establishment which is why we must not be afraid to advocate for ourselves.
I want my community to know that there is enormous power in unity. We are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Argentinian, Cuban, Colombian - and so much more. Irrespective of our nationality we must stick together the way I've seen other communities of color do. I love my people; I've worked hard to represent my people for many years, and I want to see more unity amongst us. If we are divided, we are weaker against injustice.
We must make our voices heard not just in Hollywood but in all sectors. I'm very active and on one of the committees for the Joe Biden campaign. I think of the huge impact we would make, if we could depend on the Hispanic vote for president. We have an extremely vindictive administration right now and these people really believe in getting even. There is so much hatred and vehemence coming from the White House and enough is enough. Sometimes my community gets critiqued for not being active enough or interested in politics. People have to understand that we have not been listened to for years, our voices have been ignored in every conceivable way possible! When you've been ignored for so long, you feel that no one can hear you and no one cares. But we must speak up and remain hopeful and unafraid.
I remember the day I became an activist. It was on August 28, 1963, when I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. That moment changed me forever and I still get goosebumps each time I think about it. It was a boiling hot day in Washington D.C., and I could feel that this was the beginning of a huge turning point in American history. I was sitting not even 15 feet from Dr. King and I could see the sweat on his face. I remember looking out over the National Mall and seeing the sea of faces that traveled from all over the world to be a part of creating change. It was my fellow actor Harry Belafonte who organized for all the Hollywood actors to attend. I never asked him, but I know he wanted to show the world and Dr. King that Hollywood stars were more than just false eyelashes and makeup.
A lot of people don't know this but back then, the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King were not very liked or popular. It was very controversial. There were a lot of frightened people out there who were afraid of change. I can't speak for everyone, but I know a lot of us were afraid that if we showed up, we would lose our jobs. And for me, I had enough trouble, I was already dealing with the criticism of only doing Spanish spitfire roles. The last thing I needed was more problems, but I knew this was the right thing to do. I have two photographs from that day. One of me getting off the airplane with Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis Jr. and James Garner. I will admire James Garner forever because even though he was so afraid, he still came! On the airplane to Washington D.C. he was downing bottles of Pepto-Bismol because he had a stomach ulcer from all the fear. He still recognized the importance of doing the right thing. It took a lot of courage and conviction for us to show up. And that's what I want us all to remember, is to show up, in spite of.
When we marched with Dr. King, we sensed change would come, but we didn't know for sure then, hope was all we had. We hoped that it would change the world forever. And we are still holding on to that hope today, we are still going and it's not over! One thing that is for sure about me is that hope is in my DNA. I was born with that, and so was my mother. We came to the United States by boat when I was just five years old. Hope and resilience are in my nature. I will always keep fighting for what's right.
Rita Moreno is an activist, actress, singer, and dancer with EGOT distinction, currently starring as Lydia Riera on One Day at a Time.
The statements and viewpoints expressed in the article above are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions or viewpoints of the Television Academy, the Television Academy Foundation, or their members, officers, directors, employees, or sponsors.